Sushant Singh Rajput has spent nearly a year prepping for and playing the iconic Bengali detective Byomkesh Bakshy. He has also worked with an auteur, Dibakar Bannerjee, to make retro cool in this film. A star in the making, confident yet guarded, AK gets him speaking on films, choices & the cagey bit on life (in love) with Ankita Lokhande.
You’ve appeared in just four films so far but do carry the aura & promise of a ‘star’. Your work has been appreciated. Do you think your choice of films has made you stand out from amongst a host of contemporary male actors?
Maybe yes. I feel that if you stick to exactly what you believe in, then people also start believing in you. If you are working for the audience, and making your choices like that, then you end up signing up a host of films that you Don’t truly believe in. And then you kind of mess up.
This is exactly what I have been doing since my theatre days. All the characters that I play are characters that interest me and I really wanted to experience & understand. Which is why I suppose people think that my film choices are carefully chosen.
You just mentioned theater days. Can you tell us a bit about that.
In Delhi, I worked with Barry John’s theatre group & here in Mumbai, I worked with Nadira Babbar. I have acted in theatre for five years.
Byomkesh Bakshy is a character that has been reprised many times in Bengali and also in Hindi by Rajat Kapoor. Dibakar says that this film is a contemporary take on Byomkesh. So how have you interpreted him?
I’ve seen ‘Chiriakhana’. I’ve seen every Byomkesh Bakshy post I finished shooting for this film. Before we began shooting, I was told not to watch anything. I had some vague memories of Rajat Kapoor playing Byomkesh Bakshy back in the 90s when I was a kid. But I read the entire Sharadindu story before shooting for this part as part of my research. This is based in the period. Everything that happens is how the author wrote out this film. But it’s a very contemporary way of looking at the same thing. The stylistic aspect & technical tricks to actually hook the contemporary youth in order to tell them what is period and why it was also very cool, is what Dibakar has done.
And since it is his own interpretation and a very personal interpretation, is why the central idea is different. It’s not just about Byomkesh solving the case & how he solves the case. The complexity of this case is fascinating yes, but the film is a lot more layered.
I remember Dibakar giving me this script and a fat book with all character sketches. He has written out what is happening between the characters & what was happening in Kolkata during the Forties. So he knew exactly what world we are actually exploring. He told me exactly what are those things that I am NOT supposed to do. What could be done is exactly happened during the months of research & shooting.
What are those things that he told you NOT to do?
Having read the script multiple times, I got to know more about the period well. Dibakar also shared some music tracks to give an idea of the aroma of Kolkata during that period. So I read the stories, watched a lot of films about Kolkata around that time; and I also spent time in Kolkata. I met lots of Bengali families & had meals with them. I approached the same characters in multiple ways.
That’s when I got a hang of playing Byomkesh. That’s when I started improvising and coming up with my interpretation. That’s when he started correcting me- this is where you don’t go, this is what you don’t think. He added small inputs. Now, after working with him, is when I realize that he might have always been very sure of what he wanted from me. He never told me. I believed I was coming up with these ideas organically; whereas he always let me think- and gave me subtle clues. I have read about Sidney Pollack’s style in a book. I never understood it. But now, having worked with Dibakar, I seem to understand that.
Byomkesh Bakshy is a typically Bengali character- he is integral to the Renaissance of Bengali culture & literature. As a culture and language, there might be resistance to an outsider (a non Bengali) playing this character on such a big scale. They are a proud people. Are you at all, thinking about that?
When I think about it now, I am just curious to find out how they react. Spending time in Kolkata and interacting with Bengali people showed to me that they have very strong opinions on Byomkesh & Feluda. They knew that this is how should it be. When you are strongly opinionated, you don’t entertain other interpretations. But since we have made this film with a certain style we might be able to prove that there is another way of looking at Byomkesh. When Bengali audiences are convinced, is when the film will be truly successful.
Spending so much time in Kolkata; what did you like about the city?
I can’t put a finger to one thing- but people in Kolkata warm up to strangers very easily. Once they become friends, they go on and on about art, literature & culture. They have a sense of pride and I think that is worth admiring. After all, I don’t think there is any other city in Asia other than Tokyo that boasts of 5 Nobel Laureates- Amartya Sen, Rabindranath Tagore, Mother Teresa, C V Raman & Sir Ronald Ross. They love to talk at length about Tagore. I think Kolkata offers a strange & interesting mix of European culture & Indian tradition.
Is Paani on hold? Why are you sporting long hair presently?
Its not on hold. We will work on it. This is my look for Dhoni.
Why did you choose to stay away from all PK promotions? Despite being a small role the response to your work was positive. What kind of feedback did you get?
Of course the reactions have been positive. I didn’t promote it because Aamir Khan is the best man to promote & market a film. He knows best. It was Rajkumar Hirani film & an Aamir Khan film. I wouldn’t have been a catalyst for the film’s promotions. So I stayed away.
You’ve always spoken openly about your relationship with Ankita Lokhande. I am not going to ask you on when you plan to marry; that is your business. But how as busy actors with such hectic schedules & so many outdoor locations, do you manage to find time for each other?
My reasons for being with Ankita are very selfish. I want her in my life; she gives me a sense of psychological security. So since I want her in my life is why I will find a reason and find the time to be with her.
I will always find a reason to sustain this relationship. If I don’t want her in my life, I will find one good reason and we will call it off. I really want to be with her so I find multiple reasons to spend time with her!